It wouldn’t be accurate to call it an easy route, but regardless of how it’s defined, Elias Theodorou certainly didn’t take it.
An Ultimate Fighter winner, marketable, charismatic, and owning the self-proclaimed best hair in mixed martial arts, the Canadian could have easily approached UFC matchmaker Joe Silva and asked for fight after fight, eager to cash in and strike while the iron was hot after winning TUF Nations in April of 2014.
But the Toronto middleweight isn’t looking for a quick hit. He plans on staying awhile.
“I’m just assessing the situation,” he said. “I'm only 27 now and the median age for my weight class is 31, so I've got a couple years before my prime. One of the biggest selling points behind me is that I don't know how to lose, and that's a real thing. I also don't bite off more than I can chew. I know people that have done that and just basically lost a lot of the momentum from a loss. A loss is a devastating thing and I'm just trying to postpone it as long as possible.”
So far it’s been 12 fights up and 12 fights down, all victories, with three of those wins coming in the Octagon. Theodorou stopped two of his three UFC foes, but after his March TKO of Roger Narvaez, he went off the radar. Not on social media of course, but off the fighting radar. And that was entirely his decision.
“I know it's been eight or so months since my last fight, and that was by choice,” he said. “It wasn't injury, it wasn't anything else. That was me growing and learning, and I'm excited to show everyone what I worked so hard on and just me becoming a more complete mixed martial artist. I've only been doing this for six or so years, four of those have been professional, and I have no background training whatsoever. A lot of it's a work in progress, and I'm really excited to be under those bright lights Dec. 10.”
Tonight, his return in Las Vegas will be an interesting one, as he faces Brazilian knockout artist Thiago “Marreta” Santos, clearly his toughest test to date, and the most dangerous. Santos has stopping power in his fists and feet, making Theodorou’s ability to implement his grappling attack even more important. So to get to that point, “The Spartan” added a little firepower to his training camp in the form of New York’s Serra-Longo Fight Team, led by middleweight champion Chris Weidman.
“I got to train around a champion and my coaches and I were able to get inspired by what's around us,” he said. “When you get the opportunity to train with a champion's camp, you take it.
“He's a very intense individual in the sense of his belief in himself, his skill, his ability, and what he's been able to accomplish so far,” Theodorou added, speaking of Weidman and his influence. “Once he beats Luke Rockhold (on Saturday), which I believe he will, he has a Murderers Row in regard to accomplishments.
“He defeated the pound-for-pound best guys in the world and did so with not that big of a mixed martial arts pedigree before that. It was just belief in himself and his refusal to lose. Being undefeated, that momentum, that tenacity is a real thing, and we got to be two like-minded individuals who are basically striving for the same goal on the same week. And it was really amazing to basically peak and just take in the atmosphere that was a champion's camp.”
It wasn’t just about mindset in the Long Island gym though, as Theodorou got a crash course in what it technically takes to be a world champion. For some, that would be a discouraging experience. For Theodorou, it was an education that he embraced.
“It was very humbling moment every time we were on the wrestling mat, and he rode me like a pony,” he laughs. “But with that being said, it kind of left me inspired. I'm losing every single day here so I can be unstoppable on game day. I'm not afraid to lose. I think it's been a big change from being in Toronto and some of the other camps, to be frank, where you never want to be the best in the room. You always want to be chasing someone else, and who better to chase than the best in the world?”
Life for Theodorou these days is a nomadic one of sorts. He has been around the globe, training and learning and stepping out of his comfort zone. He’s got a mature grip on life and his sport, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.
“I love to remove myself from the distractions of life, and kind of get my head out of it and bury my head in my work,” he said. “And I'm really fortunate that my team could come with me and we can live this nomadic lifestyle. Being a single individual that's not married and with no kids, I have the luxury of traveling and seeing the world. And for me, mixed martial arts is all about the journey.”
That journey has brought him to the Fight Capital of the World for the latest biggest fight of his career. And with a win, they’re only going to get bigger in 2016.
“Once I'm finished being a little bit of a fat kid for Christmas, it's right back into the swing of things for 2016,” Theodorou said. “And having my hand raised (against Santos) will just put the icing on the cake and allow me to basically assess everything.
“After every win, I still look at the drawing board and reevaluate everything. Being 4-0 in the UFC means something and as everything and every person becomes that much more of a challenge and an opportunity to rise to the occasion. I'm really excited to show everybody what I've been working so hard on.”